Boris Johnson has appointed Priti Patel as his home secretary, after one of the most dramatic cabinet clear-outs in history.
The MP for Witham and “hardline Brexiteer” is taking over from Sajid Javid, who has been made chancellor of the Exchequer, says The Times.
The decision to appoint Patel, Britain’s first Indian-origin home secretary, appears to tie into Johnson’s attempts to create what he refers to as a “cabinet for modern Britain” – wording that The Guardian’s Kehinde Andrews claims is a “euphemism for non-white”.
Yet in light of her voting record, there has been little celebration among the more moderate and left-wing contingents of British society. PinkNews reports that the 47-year-old minister has “generally voted against LGBT+ rights”, and her previous comments about the death penalty may also prompt concern among civil liberties groups.
In addition, her last cabinet position ended in disgrace in 2017, when she was forced to resign as UK international development secretary after conducting unauthorised meetings with foreign officials.
Following her appointment to Johnson’s cabinet, Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesperson Ed Davey said that Patel’s role should involve measures to “keep our country safe and ensure that everyone’s rights are respected”.
“But now we have a Conservative home secretary who voted against allowing same-sex couples to marry, has argued that it is wrong for citizens to hold the government to account through the courts, and is one of the most enthusiastic advocates of Brexit,” he continued.
So who is the new home secretary?
What did she do before politics?
According to the Daily Express, Patel was born in 1972 in Harrow to Gujarati Indian parents, and joined the Conservative Party as a teenager, citing Margaret Thatcher as her hero.
The paper reports that she once said of Britain’s first female PM: “She had a unique ability to understand what made people tick, households tick and businesses tick. Managing the economy, balancing the books and making decisions – not purchasing things the country couldn’t afford.”
What has Patel done since becoming an MP?
After a brief stint as a PR consultant, Patel stood as an MP for Nottingham North in 2005 but lost to sitting Labour MP Graham Allen, before launching a successful bid to become MP for Witham in Essex in 2010, a seat she still holds.
After serving as Exchequer secretary to the Treasury and then minister of state for employment under David Cameron, she was appointed secretary of state for international development under Theresa May.
In this last role Patel expressed concern that her department’s funds might have been going to support the Palestinian territories via the United Nations. In October 2016, she ordered a review of the funding procedure, temporarily freezing approximately a third of Britain’s aid to the Palestinians.
The following year, it emerged that Patel had scheduled meetings with Israeli officials while on holiday but had failed to officially inform the Foreign Office. Shortly after these secret meetings took place, Patel recommended that international aid money be sent to field hospitals run by the Israeli army in the Golan Heights, The Independent reports.
She was forced by May to resign from her cabinet position on 8 November 2017, after just 16 months in the role.
What are her views on the death penalty?
Patel is known for having an extremely tough stance on crime. In 2011, she came to prominence over a controversial appearance on BBC’s Question Time during which she argued that the death penalty should be brought back as a “deterrent” for criminals, even if that meant innocent people were killed.
“I do think that when we have a criminal justice system that continuously fails in the country and where we have seen murderers and rapists … reoffend and do those crimes again and again I think that’s appalling,” she said. “On that basis alone, I would support the reintroduction of capital punishment to serve as a deterrent.”
Although Patel said that she no longer held this view during an interview in 2016, her past comments will be of “particular concern to civil liberties groups” that were “alarmed by Javid’s decision not to seek a death penalty assurance from the US in the case of two Isis executioners”, according to The Guardian.
How about gay marriage?
According to the i news site, while LGBTQ+ rights have “seen something of a turnaround in opinion among many frontbench Tories in recent years”, Patel has opposed the reforms.
She voted against the introduction of same-sex marriage in England and Wales in 2013, and this year abstained from voting on a bill to extend equal marriage to Northern Ireland, which was subsequently passed.
She has also abstained from votes on marriage equality in the Armed Forces.
Patel has consistently voted for a “stricter asylum system, stronger enforcement of immigration rules and against banning the detention of pregnant women in immigration jails”, and “backed the key components of Theresa May’s hostile environment policies”, The Guardian reports.
As the newspaper notes, her views on such issues will be watched closely by asylum campaigners and charities, “many of whom have been calling for the government to relax rules on asylum seekers’ ability to work in the UK, extend the time refugees are given to find work and a home before they are cut off for government support, and to expand pledges to resettle displaced persons”.
Clare Collier, advocacy director at human rights group Liberty, says that Patel is a “politician with a consistent record of voting against basic human rights protections”, noting that “for her to be put in charge of the Home Office is extremely concerning”.
“The new home secretary needs urgently to put human rights at the heart of Home Office policymaking and reverse the damage caused by Theresa May’s most toxic legacy – the hostile environment,” Collier added.